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For more information, visit hauntedsonomacounty.com.


Long-departed inhabitants of Sonoma County star in a new feature documentary highlighting the intertwined history and haunted happenings of the North Bay.

Award-winning Petaluma filmmaker Tom Wyrsch spent a year making “Haunted Sonoma County,” a 72-minute film that premiered Oct. 3 at Sebastiani Theatre in Sonoma and is showing Oct. 15 and Oct. 19 at Summerfield Cinemas in Santa Rosa and Oct. 21 and 23 at the Rio Theater in Monte Rio.

The historic Sonoma Plaza movie house and other Sonoma locales are featured, along with ghostly settings in Penngrove, Petaluma, Santa Rosa, Guerneville and Bodega. The county is so rich with alleged apparitions and spooky tales, Wyrsch couldn’t include all towns and cities.

“I’m sure things happened in Healdsburg and Cloverdale, but that will be for ‘Haunted Sonoma County 2.’ You can only do so much,” Wyrsch said, laughing.

With some of the oldest communities in the state, Sonoma County offered the independent filmmaker vast opportunities to share the lore of unexplained occurrences and ghost sightings many believe are rooted in the supernatural world.

Wyrsch, 64, presents the news of white ladies crossing roadways, spirits inhabiting busy public places and apparitions residing in old cemeteries. His intent is to let viewers discern fact from fiction — or ponder the possibilities of other-worldly occurrences.

“I don’t try to debunk anything or prove anything,” Wyrsch said. “I’m not verifying anything, just telling you what I heard.”

Twelve Sonoma County residents (including a number of historians) share long-held tales from within their communities, all filmed on location. Several re-enactments are featured, with “some surprises” in store for moviegoers.

“They see the exact location of where the ghost is seen,” Wyrsch said. “There are no simulated locations. They’re all real. It’s going to be a road map for ghost hunters.”

As with his previous documentaries, “Haunted Sonoma County” provides a historic overview of the era of alleged happenings.

One ghost said to regularly appear at Flying Goat Coffee in Santa Rosa’s historic Railroad Square, for instance, reportedly was a businessman named Joe Wood, who arrived in town the night before he was killed when the 1906 earthquake damaged the building, then the Western Hotel.

Another alleged apparition appears in a historic downtown Petaluma building constructed as the Petaluma Christian Church. There, the ghost of a young woman has been seen in a blood-stained automobile veil and duster reminiscent of those worn in the early 1900s as protection from the dust of unpaved roadways.

“I didn’t want it to be a ghost hunter movie. It’s history first, story second,” Wyrsch said. “There’s lots of really good history (in Sonoma County) and lots of really good ghost history. I didn’t want to go out and make a spooky film, but it does have things that will spook people.”

The film is his eighth documentary since 2007. The first, “Watch Horror Films! Keep America Strong!,” looked at the popularity of the hit late-night KTVU television show “Creature Features” and its hosts, Bob Wilkins and John Stanley.

His Garfield Lane Productions company has produced feature documentaries highlighting San Francisco’s Playland at the Beach and the Sutro Baths at Land’s End, and the decades of Harry Houdini séances in Sonoma County, led by late Petaluma Argus-Courier newspaper columnist Bill Soberanes.

For more information, visit hauntedsonomacounty.com.

Wyrsch was pondering a topic for his next documentary when the idea came to him to explore the ghost stories so alive in Sonoma County. Wyrsch produces and directs the film, with cinematography by Steve Brown. It was made on a $20,000 budget.

“Haunted Sonoma County” follows a series of successful films, most evoking nostalgia in the Bay Area. Wyrsch wanted his next effort also to make an emotional connection with audiences.

His dozen storytellers are local residents, none of them actors, and genuinely believe in the possibility of the haunted accounts within their communities.

With their long and storied histories, Sonoma, Petaluma and Santa Rosa are particularly haunted areas, Wyrsch said.

Santa Rosa resident Laurie Jacobson hosts the documentary, introducing segments from Northbay TV owner Jeff Bodean’s elaborate “House on the Hill” spook series set located in a warehouse in Windsor. Fully orchestrated “mood music” is featured throughout.

Wyrsch said the eerie set “gave me the perfect location” for filming Jacobson’s introductions. Jacobson is the author of “Hollywood Haunted,” which covers more than 100 years of haunted happenings around Tinseltown.

Wyrsch became interested in filmmaking as a young boy, when he shot frames and spliced together scenes using his father’s 8 mm. camera. He later took filmmaking courses for fun at Santa Rosa Junior College.

Wyrsch managed West Coast warehouse distributions for Russ Berrie gift company in Petaluma for 27 years, before he got into filmmaking by chance. He doesn’t aspire to capture top awards at film festivals. He’s drawn to stories that combine his interest in history with experiences that engage people.

“I want to get it to people and the general population, not (film) festival people. That’s not my focus,” he said.

He’s still perfecting his skills, with “Haunted Sonoma County” being his first experience filming outdoors, complete with distractions from weed blowers, automobiles and airplanes.

Wyrsch is hopeful his latest effort will interest those who believe in ghosts — and those who don’t.

He’s long held an interest in everything from the supernatural to Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster and UFOs.

His cast and seven-member crew didn’t encounter anything odd during filming (even during night shoots), but during editing “something showed up on one interview we couldn’t explain.”

Wyrsch isn’t claiming it was a ghost, but he’s not exactly discounting the suggestion. Moviegoers can judge for themselves.

“There’s nothing like the magic of the screen,” he said. “You have the feeling you’re there.”

A DVD will be released in late November.

For more information, visit hauntedsonomacounty.com.

Contact Towns Correspondent Dianne Reber Hart at sonomatowns@gmail.com.